The brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are the latest incidents of unending violence perpetuated against black people and other communities of color in this country. Racism is embedded in the very fabric of the Greater Rochester region – our justice system, our schools, our housing policies, and certainly our transportation system. This must change.
We also acknowledge that our organization contributes to this system in certain ways. Reconnect Rochester was founded more than 10 years ago to champion transportation choices that enable a more vibrant and equitable community, and yet our membership, board, staff, and leadership are not representative of the Rochester community.
As an organization, we are reflecting on how we can hold ourselves accountable for living up to our professed values of equity and inclusion, and how we can center anti-racism in our work. Over the next several weeks and months, we will develop and share a clear set of actions aimed at holding ourselves accountable to advancing equity and inclusivity in all of our efforts. As a first step, we have signed the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s declaration that “Racism is a Public Health Crisis.”
I have found that during this pandemic, there have been times when I really don’t want to do much of anything. In the morning, I roll out of bed to my bedside table which I have made into my makeshift work desk. I spend most of the work day locked in my bedroom to create a private and HIPPA compliant space so I can talk to my clients who have SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness). There are days when the emotional toll of my work day is hard to leave behind. Social media and those fighting back against what the experts have to say have made tuning everything out all the more difficult.
I’ve found the cure to cabin fever, a cure I have known all along but sometimes it takes reminding, is riding my bike. Whether it’s riding by a friends house as they’re sitting out on their porch, or heading to the local 7-11 or liquor store to get a beverage for dinner that night, those quick trips make all the difference in my day.
I’m not suggesting you ride 25 miles down to Avon on the Genesee Valley Trail, or ride from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canal. I am writing this as a gift to you, to dust off your bike and take it for a ride down the street. Whether you have the intention to swing by a friend’s house to say hi and pick up tomato plants, or to the 7-11 to pick up a six pack of beer, I promise the satisfaction of giving yourself some fresh air while doing something practical and time enhancing will make all the difference in your life.
Your bike does not, and I repeat, DOES NOT have to be in the most perfect shape. Make sure you can come to a complete stop at a stop sign and make sure you’ve got a little air in those tires. If you do not own a bike, lots of folks in our community are selling great ones on Facebook Marketplace. Ask questions and look for something you like.
Decrease your excuses to increase your joy. I hope our music video will encourage you to get on that bicycle and ride!
Guest blog by Doug Kelley, Associate Professor, University of Rochester.
In my first few long bike rides this spring, I’ve been bowled over by the beautiful views. And it’s not like I’m visiting new places. I pedaled these same routes last summer, when I first came to Copenhagen for a yearlong sabbatical and was eager to explore. But never were the vistas like this! Now, the hills and buildings of Sweden, 10 miles across the waters of Øresund, are not just blurry shapes, but clear and distinct and colorful. Now, looking southwest from the gorgeous seaside bike path in Naturpark Amager, I can see the towns of Køge and Strøby across the bay, nearly 20 miles distant and never visible before. First noticing these fantastic vistas, I gave thanks for the end of the dark and rainy Danish winter. Then I remembered that visibility was never this good last August or September. Something else must be happening. That something is probably covid-19.
The pandemic is causing profound suffering worldwide, through death and sickness, through separation and hardship. I would not wish it upon anyone. The pandemic is also giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced. Few are driving, which means less air pollution, and we can see the improvement with our own eyes. It’s visible all over, not just on my weekend bike routes but in places like London, Delhi, Wuhan, and Los Angeles. My wife tells me her lungs feel better now as she strolls along formerly-busy roads. Back home, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Rochester are down 30%. NASA data shows similar trends all over the world. Social media is awash in before-and-after photos picturing how much better our views have gotten thanks to reduced motor traffic. Mount Kenya is spectacular.
“The pandemic is giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced.“
With those views come other important benefits. The micron-scale airborne particles that mar our vistas also wreak havoc on our health. They are the most harmful form of air pollution, penetrating deep into the lungs and blood to cause heart attacks and respiratory disease. One study found that for particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, every airborne concentration decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter comes with a 36% decrease in lung cancer. Another study estimated that reducing particle pollution by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would prevent 34,000 premature deaths per year in the United States. So ironically, reduced motor traffic due to the pandemic may actually save as many lives as are lost to covid-19. That’s a speculation, but given what we know, entirely plausible.
“Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs.“
Reducing motor traffic also comes with the obvious benefits of reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be 8% lower worldwide in 2020 than in 2019, mainly due to reduced motor traffic and airline travel. Climate change is a long-established scientific fact, and its extreme weather and eerily warm winters are now nearly as evident in firsthand experience as the vistas on my bike rides. A one-year, 8% drop isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“A one-year, 8% drop [in greenhouse gas emissions] isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.“
Living through this historic moment, when we literally see the good of reduced motor traffic with our own eyes, I can’t help but wonder: What if we hold on to the good, and hold on tight? As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic? What if we reboot our economy and jobs and schooling without ruining our own vistas and attacking our own lungs?
“As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic?”
The pandemic has taught us that for many jobs and in many cases, we can work from home just fine. The pandemic has taught us that some travel is more trouble than it’s worth. What if, instead of using the pandemic as an excuse for more pollution, we enact laws and regulations that clean our air? What if we go more places by walking and biking and public transportation? What if we build on our momentum? It would mean new thinking about topics like achieving social distancing on buses and trains. It would mean living in a new way. But the lifestyle adjustments involved are far smaller and simpler than the ones we have already achieved, surviving this unprecedented pandemic together.
We can get started right now.
Here are a few ways to build on great work already happening in our region:
Walk or bike or take the bus on three trips this week — or the next three trips you take, if you’re at home this week — when you might otherwise have used a motor vehicle.
The benefits would be huge. Cleaner-feeling lungs, fewer respiratory diseases, better quality of life, reduced chance of climate change causing harder times even than the covid-19 pandemic. And big, clear, beautiful vistas. I think we can do it.
There are many more ways to take action. Leave comments below with your own suggestions.
by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester
Journey from Car Driver to Bike Educator
In 2012, I was just as car-dependent as anybody when Mike Governale’s Rochester Subway blog and ROC Transit Day caught my attention. It was Reconnect’s creativity and ROC Transit Day’s great buzz that got me thinking about getting to work without my car. When my uncle gave me his old mountain bike around that time, I gave biking to work a shot. I discovered it was just as quick as driving, but I wasn’t very comfortable and stuck to the sidewalk.
“I wanted to be less frightened on my bike.”
Confession time: Just ask my parents – I’ve always been a risk-averse, shy, non-confrontational person. When you conjure up the mental image of a macho, super-confident cyclist, that wasn’t me! I wanted to be less frightened on my bike, so when I learned my friend Tracey Austin was teaching a two-hour bike class at the Rochester Brainery in 2013, I jumped at the opportunity.
Bike Education Built My Confidence
Tracey, who had been trained as a bike patrol officer through IPMB (International Police Mountain Bike), was very knowledgeable and reached her students where we were at. No question was off-limits or too stupid. After a brief slide presentation on traffic law and best practices, we headed outside. We learned how to inspect our bikes to ensure they’ll operate properly, and we spent 20 minutes or so learning basic handling maneuvers such as the quick stop. Then came the best part: We navigated Rochester’s streets together on our bikes.
It was a beautiful late August evening, and together we made left turns in left-turn-lanes (!), something I had never done before and would never have done by myself, if not for riding in a group. I recall biking across the Pont de Rennes Bridge for the first time with a gorgeous sunset transpiring before our eyes. It felt like we were Hogwarts students riding broomsticks around the city. When the class concluded, something in me had changed. I knew what the simple bike was capable of and I was now confident enough to bike on most streets. That fall, I started biking regularly.
Ditching the Car for Good
Three months after that class, I got rid of my car and haven’t had one since. I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year. In the intervening 6 years, I took two more intensive bike classes that exponentially increased my confidence and knowledge. And in 2017 I got certified myself (alongside some friends) as an LCI – a League Certified Instructor – through the League of American Bicyclists.
“I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year.”
If I Can Do It, Anyone Can Do It
I talk to so many people who say “You’ll never get me on a bike.” “No way will I ever ride among cars.” Listen, I totally get it. I’ve been there. I understand how scary it feels. It took a class for me to get comfortable on my bike and I suspect that’s the case for many.
If you consider yourself “interested-but-concerned” when it comes to biking (most people identify in this category), I urge you to take a class. It’s not boot camp. It’s fun, cheap and some of the best money you’ll ever spend.
This isn’t about “getting rid of your car.” This is about taking opportunities to bike. The low hanging fruit: the majority of car trips which are under 2 or 3 miles. As I said in a recent podcast interview, “We’d live in a different world if we saved our cars for long trips, when the weather is bad, or when there’s more than one occupant in the car. If we only biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.” And honestly, even if you only ever intend to bike on our beautiful river & canal trails away from traffic, you’ll still benefit from a class: You’ll get more comfortable on your bike and cycling will become more enjoyable.
“If we only we biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.”
But I fervently believe that bike education has a crucial role too.Infrastructure alone isn’t enough. Even if Rochester becomes the Copenhagen of North America, there will never be protected bike lanes from your doorstep to your destination. You are going to have to mix in with traffic some of the time. You’re operating a legal vehicle and need to not only know traffic law, but abide by best practices a certified instructor can teach you.
Keep your eye out on the Reconnect Rochester event calendar for bike education class opportunities, like the “Getting Back on Your Bike” virtual presentation I’ll be giving on April 25 for the Central Library. This summer, we hope to have a couple on-bike classes similar to the one I took in 2013. A typical intro class includes a classroom presentation, basic handling drills and a short group ride where we navigate various infrastructure and intersection scenarios together.
Final Two Words: Just Ride
Beyond bike education, I urge you to just ride. Rochester has a wonderful bike scene and there are weekly rides for people of all ages and skill levels that will resume when we get the thumbs-up from officials. Send me an email to subscribe to the RCA’s monthly news, to be apprised of upcoming classes and rides, or if you have any bike safety questions.
A recent study found that people who drive to work would much rather teleport if such a thing were possible. Cyclists, however, the study found, wouldn’t teleport – because they actually find empowerment and joy in the journey.
Authored by Arian Horbovetz, Reconnect Rochester Board Member
In these suddenly uncertain times, the urbanist virtues of density and public transit are negated by the public responsibility of social distancing. The idea that our cities are cooperative centers of shared innovation, inspiration and collective efficiency has suddenly given way to the real and justifiable fears of physical proximity and viral transmission. Suddenly, many of the qualities that make cities amazing places are the very things that can also promote the spread of the Coronavirus.
Estimates for transit are grim. Transit agencies across the country are likely seeing an estimated 50%- 90% decrease in ridership. And this is after a 20-year increase in transit utilization suddenly took a dive around 2015, largely due to the popularity of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. This viral gut-punch will likely be another blow to the vital community resource that is public transportation.
Experts estimate that transit agencies will lose $26-$38 billion in revenue as a result of the necessary steps of social distancing, remote work and the closing of non-essential businesses. While this is a monumental blow to the already-strained budgets of nearly every transit system in the nation, it would likely be one that many small-to-midsized cities simply could not overcome. Without the aforementioned assistance from the Federal Government, transit agencies across the nation would have to discontinue important routes and services.
An estimated 36% of transit riders are workers in essential industries such as health care. In a time when our hospital capacities are being pushed to their limits and the presence of essential staff is critical, the importance of reliable public transportation cannot be overstated.
What About Long Term?
The seamless functionality of public transit during this period of uncertainty is tremendously important for public health. But when we finally mitigate the spread of this virus and begin the return to societal normalcy, we will need public transit to help facilitate the economic recovery of our communities. Getting people back to work, back to more frequent trips to stores and fun nights out with friends will all be partially dependent on public transit to help sew the fabric of cities like Rochester back together. A high-functioning RTS bus network here in our community will be a critical safety net, softening the horrific economic impact the coronavirus has already inflicted on our city. Transit can help families do what they need to do now, so that when this time passes, those same families are more likely to fully recover and regenerate our local economy.
Speaking Of RTS
RTS was expected to roll out their long-awaited Reimagine RTS system re-design plan on June 29th of this year, with revised routes, increased frequency on popular routes and “mobility zones” in outlying areas. In a statement last week, RTS CEO Bill Carpenter announced that the rollout of this new plan would be delayed indefinitely.
RTS has, however, remained dedicated to providing riders with regular service while adding more frequent and thorough cleanings of buses and facilities while temporarily waiving fares on all routes.
Just when cities like Rochester were beginning to have meaningful conversations about the tremendous social and economic benefits of public transportation, the pandemic we now face will likely have a lasting impact on how we view and interact with public spaces. Since the nature of public transit is physically shared mobility, with close seats, handrails and pull-cords, the understandable long-term stigma generated by the pandemic may mean that riders who can afford to choose more individualized transportation will do so, at least in the short term. In the future, public transit agencies may have to feature newer, cleaner buses, trains and facilities to mitigate what is likely to be a lasting psychological aversion to touching and interacting with public surfaces. And while this aversion will lessen with time, how we, the rider, approach the choice to take public transit from the perspective of our personal health, may never be the same.
We Need Public Transportation
The $25 billion emergency public transit infusion from the federal government that will help to lessen the blow during this difficult period was made possible only by staunch advocacy from organizations and individuals who know the importance of transit in our communities. Those of us who understand transit’s inherent ability to promote equity and mobility options for Rochester and beyond must continue to advocate politically, socially and personally for a robust commitment to public transportation.
Finally, in this time, it is important to remember that many of the folks who are on the front lines, keeping us safe, healthy, and well fed, are the people who rely on public transportation for their everyday commute. And when this difficult time passes, public transit will, as it always has, play in an integral role in Rochester’s economic recovery, connecting people to jobs and resources.
Our city will always be stronger and more adaptable when we have an abundance of mobility options. When our diverse community of citizens are empowered with transportation choices, our Rochester will always be more successful, more equitable and more resilient. We will get through this… and when we do, we will need public transit to do what it has always done, and more.
Blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Reconnect board member and the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.
Your heart sinks when you see that orange symbol of uncertainty. You grip the wheel tighter, curse, and check your watch to see if the impending redirection will inevitably make you late to your destination. We’ve all experienced this frustrating dilemma, brought about by that never-welcomed sign that reads “DETOUR.”
While detours encountered on the road may be frustrating, fear not! The Department of Transportation has outlined the most convenient alternative navigation for you to traverse instead. Abundant signage will guide your new direction, showing you exactly where to go in order to continue along your new route. Your safety on this detour has been considered. The new route will accommodate all vehicles, from small cars to big trucks. While inconvenienced, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into ensuring that your detour will be as impact-free as possible.
But what happens when you’re walking down a city sidewalk and you see a sign like the one below?
What happens when you’re rolling down an urban bike trail and you encounter a piece of construction equipment blocking your path?
This piece of machinery was blocking a trail in Buffalo, NY while the operators were on a lunch break. “Oh sorry, I was about to move that” one of the workers said as I snapped a photo…
Or maybe you’re making the trek home from the bar on foot, only to encounter this blocking your path…
Finally, you and your family are taking a winter evening stroll in your neighborhood. While the street you’re on is perfectly plowed, you can’t help but notice that your children are struggling to stay on their feet while traversing the icy sidewalk.
Walkability is something we talk about with regard to healthy communities and neighborhoods these days. And for good reason… areas that are more walkable have higher property value, and have shown to be better for business growth and proliferation. But even with all the positives that come from strong pedestrian connectivity, construction projects, infrastructure maintenance and good old fashioned Mother Nature can lead to sidewalk closures and/or unsafe walking environments. Most of these can be remedied with proper planning and foresight, but that foresight is often lacking. Developers and workers don’t always understand the importance of pedestrian prioritization, and this is, to some extent, understandable. It is only just now that we are beginning to realize the importance of giving pedestrians welcoming, connected, comfortable and safe environments to traverse neighborhoods on foot.
When sidewalks are closed due to nearby construction, pedestrians must find a way around. This either means backtracking to the last crosswalk, or worse, venturing out into the a potentially busy street in order to cross, or walk in the road along the blocked sidewalk until they pass the construction area. It is important for everyone to understand that people on foot, like drivers, will often choose the most convenient option, even if it is not the best or safest.
This cement truck was not only parked in a crosswalk leading from Rochester’s Genesee Riverway Trail, it completely blinded pedestrians from being able to see oncoming traffic on South Avenue
Construction companies should do everything in their power to ensure that a pedestrian right-of-way is not impeded by their work. Actions should be taken to ensure that pedestrians don’t have to find an alternate route. Sidewalk sheds and scaffolding, much like the ones we see in larger cities, should be built to keep the sidewalk functional and protect those on foot.
Furthermore, construction site and maintenance workers should be trained to ensure that equipment, machinery and other barriers never block a sidewalk or path. Workers may not realize that blocking a sidewalk, even for a short while, could put pedestrians in an inconvenient, or even dangerous situation.
Even plow companies need to appreciate the negative impact of moving snow out of our streets and into the direct path of our pedestrians.
Failing to mind these amenities is even more detrimental to the safety of persons with disabilities. A closed sidewalk can make for a precarious situation for those in our community with mobility issues, and/or folks in wheelchairs or motorized scooters.
Finally, blocking sidewalks is not just inconvenient and unsafe for pedestrians, it sends a message that this vital piece of infrastructure is not important. When car traffic is moving smoothly while the adjacent sidewalk has been blocked, torn up or interrupted, it clearly signals that those who choose to walk or have to walk are not welcome, and seen as less important.
While Rochester’s Nathaniel Apartments were being constructed, pedestrian access was accommodated on the building’s north side with a pedestrian tunnel. The East side of the building, however, did not effectively accommodate foot traffic during construction.
Meaningful accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists are out there. In our most dense urban areas where walkability is more appreciated, these accommodations are plentiful. But even in our smaller cities, there are excellent examples of developers making every attempt to ensure sidewalk use is unaffected during construction.
This construction project not only accounts for pedestrians and cyclists, the circled signage clearly instructs both on the appropriate path to use while traversing this stretch
Sidewalks are the connective tissue in our urban communities. They are the final link between homes and public transit. They are the needle the weaves the fabric of our neighborhoods together. They are are the highway for those who cannot afford a car, or make the choice not to own one. In our cities, sidewalks have a level of importance that often goes unrealized and under appreciated in our car-centric world. Accommodating and maintaining their convenience, their appeal and their safety is of paramount importance to creating a healthy, walkable environment for all of our citizens.
Copenhagen is famous for having the world’s best bike infrastructure and highest rates of bike transportation. (OK Amsterdam, you’re not bad, either.) Transit nerds love to extol the engineering details, celebrate the signage, and explain the traffic patterns in excruciating detail. While I admit getting excited by those nerd-outs — I’m an engineering professor and a lifelong cyclist, after all — the real point is the beautiful lifestyle enabled when communities “Copenhagenize.” So here’s a snapshot, one typical day of the lifestyle, as lived by my family and me during our sabbatical year away from Rochester.
After a Danish breakfast of pastries, yogurt, and coffee, I hop on my bike for the morning commute. Neighborhood roads bring me to Lyngbyvej (pronounced “loong boo vye”), busy at rush hour with more car traffic than almost any road in central Copenhagen. Still, it’s a pleasant place to cycle, because its wide bike lanes are separated from the cars by curbs, and because automotive traffic is held to reasonable speeds by stoplight timing and posted limits. At rush hour, Copenhagen’s roads carry more bikes than cars, so I feel like part of the crowd. Some cyclists ride slower, and some ride faster, passing on the left, often after ringing their bells to avoid surprises. (Impatient commuters sometimes ring excessively.) As I head south, motorists turning right wait at the intersection for a gap in the long line of cyclists passing in their own lane.
From experience I know that the stoplight at Tagensvej (pronounced “tah gens vye”) is slow, so seeing its pedestrian signal turn green up ahead, I pedal harder. A green bike signal comes next, then a green signal for motorists. I sail through as the bike signal turns yellow. Arriving at work in under 10 minutes after a 1.5-mile ride, I’m invigorated and just starting to warm up. Bike parking is ample, with spots in the open by the nearby entrance, covered spots further away, and beyond them, an underground bike-only parking deck for bad weather and expensive bikes. Most folks ride commuter bikes, akin to what Americans might call hybrids, neither flashy nor expensive, just practical. I pull into a covered spot.
Meanwhile my younger daughter, age 12, sets out for school, also biking. She soon turns left from Lyngbyvej, using the usual jug-handle method: ride across the intersecting street, stop until the signals change, then ride left across Lyngbyvej and on toward school. That keeps her in the bike lanes all the time, so she doesn’t have to change lanes and cut across motor traffic. Like the Danes, she gives a hand signal beforehand. A few blocks later, road signs direct her through a slight detour. Construction is blocking the usual bike lane, so the motor-vehicle lanes have been narrowed to make room for bikes and pedestrians, protected by a steel barrier. Construction is no excuse to block important bike and pedestrian thoroughfares.
Copenahgen may have the world’s highest rates of bike transportation, but it doesn’t have the world’s best weather. Today it’s drizzling, so my daughter is wearing a shell jacket, boots, and her new waterproof pants. Danes like to say there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Sure enough, rain hardly changes the number of cyclists on the road, and today the nearby cyclists wear clothing varying from Gore-Tex to full-body ponchos to soggy blue jeans. Most of their bikes have fenders, and lights are required by law–winter nights in Denmark are long.
Having stuff to carry doesn’t keep people from cycling, either. I take my laptop and lunch to work in waterproof saddle bags. My daughter carries a backpack, like many of the riders around her. Nearly all their bikes have racks on the back, often bearing loads held with bungee cords. Mail, football equipment, take-out, Ikea furniture, and all manner of things get carted around on sturdy flatbed cargo bikes, sometimes with electrical assistance to make pedaling easier. Danish parents commonly carry their kids to school in cargo bikes with boxed compartments on the front. Older kids sit on tag-along bikes attached to mom’s or dad’s. Most have learned to ride solo by age 3 or 4, and are getting to school on their own bikes by age 6 or 7.
My older daughter, age 13, isn’t a morning person and leaves later, finishing her 2.2-mile commute and parking her bike just in time for class. After school, the clouds persist but the rain has quit, so she decides to bike with classmates to Stroget, one of the largest pedestrian-only market streets in Europe, to window-shop and buy some candy to share. As her dinnertime curfew approaches, she considers the headwinds and decides not to bike all the way home, instead catching the S-train, which allows bikes anytime. Metro trains also allow bikes, though not at rush hour, and only with an extra ticket. But she might be tempted to take the Metro anyway once the new Orientkaj stop opens–it’s next-door to her school.
While the rest of us are away, my wife shops for some hygge (cozy) furnishings at the neighborhood secondhand shop, then picks up groceries for dinner, including fresh-baked bread. She could bike both places, but decides to walk for exercise, and anyway the grocery store is only three blocks from our apartment. After working at home awhile, she rides the S-train to Klampenborg to jog in the woods. In summer, she might instead bike to the Nordhavn harbor for a swim, or cycle 25 miles to Helsingør, then ride the train home. Neither she nor I need to plan our day around driving our kids from place to place, since they can capably bike and navigate public transportation on their own.
Home together at the end of the day, the four of us light candles, start a fire in the wood stove, and sit down to dinner. My younger daughter is ravenous after biking home from football (pronounced “soccer”) practice. My older daughter is proud that her new fitness tracker logged 14,000 steps since the morning. We have lived another day of our full and busy lives, traveling to work and school and many other places without driving a car or wishing for one. Our daily travels have required nearly no fossil fuel and put nearly no carbon into the atmosphere. Outdoor exercise lifts our moods and keeps us fit. Alternative transportation gives the kids freedom to move about independently, making extra time for us parents. And in the summertime, when the days are long and the skies are clear, Copenhagen transportation is even more lovely.
Crucially, you don’t have to live in Copenhagen to enjoy this lifestyle. Ride RTS. Rent a Pace bike. Stroll to your neighborhood cafe. Bike to work and to the Public Market. Though Rochester’s bike infrastructure doesn’t match Copenhagen — nobody’s does — you can bike to many destinations without using big, ugly roads clogged with motorists. Pedal on the Canal Path, on the River Trail, on the cycle tracks along Union Street or Elmwood Avenue, on the network of Bike Boulevards, or simply on quiet streets that parallel the big thoroughfares. Teach your kids to bike, show them safe and effective routes, let them walk, and teach them to use public transportation. Tell community leaders about the importance of building alternative transportation infrastructure. And support organizations like Reconnect Rochester that are enlarging this lifestyle in Rochester.
We kicked off the new year and decade with our Annual Meeting the first week of January, where we welcomed three new board members — Victor Sanchez, Jackie Marchand and Arian Horbovetz.
Victor is a long-time volunteer for Reconnect Rochester, doing a lot of heavy lifting for our major events through the years. Jackie assisted our Reconnect Rochester/Rochester Cycling Alliance transition team with the Cycling Coordinator candidate search & interview process, and has volunteered on our membership committee. Arian has worked with our communications team to provide content for our blog, as well as provided invaluable background research on e-scooters that shaped our recommendations to the City of Rochester about smart, safe implementation.
Welcome, Jackie, Victor and Arian! Thank you for volunteering your time and talent to hop aboard our train.
Arian Horbovetz was born in Chicago Illinois, but has spent most of his life in the Greater Rochester Area. Aside from working in clinical trials for the University of Rochester, Arian has owned and operated a professional photography company, ArianDavidPhotography for over a decade. Five years ago, Arian’s love of urban living and passion for the revitalization of our Upstate New York cities led to the creation of his online urbanist publication, The Urban Phoenix. Spurring conversation about our cities today, the history behind why our cities are the way they are, the importance of public transit, walkability, and cycling infrastructure are just a few of the topics raised in the nationally-enjoyed blog and podcast. Nearly 40 of The Urban Phoenix’s posts have been republished by Strong Towns, a national leader in the New Urban conversation. Calling himself an “Urban Influencer,” Arian takes pride in challenging the long-held misconceptions about cities, how we live, and why our urban cores face the hurdles they do in a changing world.
Jackie Marchand received an undergraduate degree from the University of Albany and an MBA from the UR Simon School. After working in nonprofit development and then a decade of making bikes and biking apparel for women at Terry Bicycles, she knew she wanted to help make cycling more accessible to more women and purchased WomanTours in 2004. Since then, she has quadrupled the size of the company. In all, Jackie has worked in the Rochester bicycle community for 25 years. When not biking to the office, she’s on the road planning and designing new tours to share her love for cycling with more and more women every year. Jackie travels quite extensively, in fact, having visited all seven continents and at least 45 countries. She’s witnessed how multimodal transportation can transform cities around the world, bring people together, and create more vibrant communities. Jackie wants to help bring the successes from other places to our very own region.
Victor Sanchez is a Virtual Design and Construction Administrator for Wegmans Food Markets. Victor was born in Mexico and later moved to White Plains, New York. He graduated from RIT with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering Technology. Victor is the immediate past Chair of RocCity Coalition, an organization focused on young Rochesterians. He has represented the Coalition in the Regional Economic Council, Roc-The-Riverway Management Entity Committee, and Re-imagine RTS Advisory Committee. Victor volunteers on several committees with the Out Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, and Genesee Land Trust. Victor also serves on the Boards at Trillium Health, New Pride Agenda, and Rochester People’s Climate Coalition.
As we look back on 2019, we’re amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish together this year. The highlights below are just a snapshot of all the good work we’ve been able to do, thanks to the financial support of Reconnect members, the passionate volunteers that make our programs and initiatives run, and so many others that engaged in our work in countless ways. Thanks to each and every one of you.
Sponsored a Cornell University Design Connect project to help the Brighton community create a vision for Monroe Ave., with an improved street design and streetscape that is more vibrant and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Gave transit riders a respectable place to sit at our 30+ seasonal bus stop cubes placed around the city. We also worked with a local fiberglass manufacturer to create a permanent cube design as a year-round solution, and have plans to get the first 15 cubes on the ground in spring 2020!
…And this doesn’t count the untold number of advocacy actions we take day in and day out to advocate for the things we all care about, like a robust public transportation system, streets that are safe for everyone, and a community that’s built to be multi-modal.
We have exciting news! (It may be the worst kept transportation-related secret in Rochester, because most of you already know.)
Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance, two groups that work to promote transportation alternatives in Monroe County, are combining their operations. We will be working together as our own little dream team; wonder twins; transportation alternative superheroes. Together, we will continue striving to create a transportation network that allows all people — regardless of age, ability, income and mode of transportation — to get around safely in the Rochester region.
Reconnect Rochester was founded in 2009 by a group of ordinary citizens who saw a need to create a more multi-modal and robust transportation network that prioritizes people, regardless of their mode of transportation. Over the last decade, our organization has rallied and engaged the community and local leadership to create more robust public transportation, more complete streets, and better, safer transportation alternatives for all.
The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) began in the summer of 2008 with the goal of uniting local bicycling advocates, enthusiasts and organizations to provide a public voice for all cyclists. RCA has promoted the use of bicycles as transportation, sport, recreation and health. It advocates for improved cycling infrastructure, education, programs and legislation. It strives to help implement active transportation plans, training and outreach programs to help encourage more people to ride, and local governments to provide more complete streets to allow them to safely do so.
This shared vision of a more multi-modal region was at the heart of the decision for the two organizations to join together. Reconnect Rochester, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is expanding our mission and purpose. Our newly blended team welcomed Jesse Peers as Cycling Coordinator this summer. He joined our Director of Planning & Development, Mary Staropoli, as our second official employee. Bill Collins, Brendan Ryan and Susan Levin joined Reconnect Rochester’s board of directors as representatives of the RCA, whose membership will continue their bike advocacy efforts as a work group of the larger organization. Reconnect Rochester’s other active work groups will continue to concentrate on furthering bus system innovation, rail transit, and pedestrian safety.
“People tend to attach themselves to their vehicle of choice, but it’s not about bike people versus bus people versus car people,” says Mike Governale, founder of Reconnect Rochester. “Our hope is that by bringing the groups together, we can begin to break down ‘mode silos’ and encourage the community to view transportation options as an interconnected system. Transportation planning is about moving people, not vehicles.”
Dr. Scott MacRae, Immediate Past President of RCA said, “Under the leadership of the late RCA co-founder and past president Richard DeSarra, the RCA has been instrumental in helping create bicycle/pedestrian master plans in the City of Rochester and the multiple surrounding municipalities, introducing bike share to our community, and expanding bike lanes and infrastructure to keep moving us toward the goal of being a top tier bike friendly community. It was Richard DeSarra and others who envisioned combining forces of the two organizations synergistically.”
Jesse Peers, Reconnect Rochester Cycling Coordinator: “We’re better together. The youthful energy and creativity within Reconnect’s organization, and the decades of experience in advocacy work that RCA members bring to the fore, is the perfect combination.”
As our organization evolves and learns new things, so too does our leadership team. After almost a decade at the helm as president, our incomparable founder Mike Governale stepped into a new role on our Board of Advisors. In January 2019, Renée Stetzer and Pete Nabozny moved into new roles as president and vice-president, respectively. And the tireless work of our board members picked up steam with the addition of Michael Damico as the new Pedestrian Work Group Chair. He joined longtime board members Brenda Massie, Jason Partyka, DeWain Feller, Dan Speciale, John Lam and Daniel Cordova.
It takes a village to bring about change in our transportation network. Our collaboration will give our collective multi-modal efforts a huge boost, as we share resources, infrastructure, ideas and energy.
Join us to help celebrate our growing organization on Thursday, December 12 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Fifth Frame Brewery Co. (155 St. Paul St.). No RSVP necessary. Complimentary appetizers & cake. Cash bar.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
I get it, if you’ve never taken the bus before, the proposition of hopping on one is a little scary. Nobody wants to look like they don’t know where they are going or what to do. The hardest part for riders in most cities is knowing when a bus is coming, where to get it and what bus to take.
Fear not, for we are in an amazing time of digital information! RTS has its own app, so you can know where your bus is and what time to be at your stop (very handy on rainy or snowy days). You can also plan your trip via desktop at myrts.com. Some people find the app a bit clunky or don’t want another app on their phones, so turn to Google.
Download the free Google Maps app on your smartphone, enter your destination and click directions. Then if your starting point is different from where you currently are, you can add that as well. Be sure to select the “transit” icon on the screen for directions that feature bus service.
For this example, I want to travel from Reconnect Rochester’s headquarters on 1115 East Main Street to our Louis M. Slaughter station to catch an Amtrak train. The map will show me the best bus routes coming up in the next hour or two…
But right now it’s 9:23am… Since my Amtrak train departs Rochester at 2:03pm, I want to see which bus will work for me this afternoon, not right now. In this case, I can click on the drop-down arrow next to “depart at” and select “arrive by” instead. I know I want to arrive at the train station by 1:55pm to be safe on time, so I can enter that time into the Google Maps and the app will show me the best bus options to get me there on time.
I can see right on the app that I need to leave Reconnect Rochester at 1:26pm and walk a short distance to the Main and Minges bus stop, where the bus will depart at 1:27pm. The bus will arrive at the transit center at 1:35pm, and from there I can walk North to the train station, which should take 10 minutes. I will arrive at the train station at 1:45pm with plenty of time to prepare for my train departure.
Don’t have a smartphone? Go to Google Maps on your desktop or laptop and follow the same instructions above. Remember to bring a dollar for each bus ride you need to take! When you approach your destination, remember to pull firmly on the cord running along the side of the bus to signal the driver that you would like to disembark. And if you don’t want to walk to-and-from the bus, you can bring your bike with you!
Google Maps has done wonders for the directionally challenged with regard to easy automobile navigation, but it can also empower us to efficiently utilize our urban transit systems. The fear of not knowing which bus to take and when, and where to go to catch it is almost completely alleviated, and for most of us, that’s half the battle. So if you’ve hesitated to explore Rochester using public transit (it’s cheap, easy and you don’t have to worry about parking!), try using Google Maps and plan your trip with the confidence of a pro!
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
Brighton will soon open a new piece of pedestrian and cycling connectivity as the long awaited “Highland Crossing Trail” moves closer to completion. A joint collaborative effort between The City Of Rochester and The Town Of Brighton, the new mixed-use trail will combine crushed stone paths with double-wide sidewalks through Brighton, connecting the Erie Canalway Trail and the Genesee Riverway Trail via Brighton Town Town Park and Highland Park.
The project, more than a decade in the making, will wind through Brighton, connecting the already existing trail from The Erie Canalway through Brighton Town Park to Westfall Road, Elmwood Avenue near Lilac Drive, Highland Park, South Avenue near May Street, and eventually the Genesee Riverway Trail via Mount Hope and McLean Street. The section between Westfall and Elmwood is particularly key, as it bridges a gap for pedestrians and cyclists that would otherwise mean traversing busy roads like South Ave. and Clinton.
“I am excited to partner with the City of Rochester on the Highland Crossing Trail project,” said Brighton Town Supervisor Bill Moehle. “Trails enhance the quality of life in our community by connecting people and neighborhoods, and by bringing people closer to nature. The Highland Crossing Trail will connect the Erie Canal Trail in Brighton to the Genesee Riverway Trail in Rochester and will be the latest link in Brighton’s expanding trail system.”
Moehle’s trail reference includes the “Brickyard Trail” which opened in 2016, connecting the town’s residential neighborhoods and library with Buckland Park.
The Highland Crossing Trail is a welcomed collaboration between The City of Rochester and The Town of Brighton, helping to sew the multi-modal and recreational fabric of our communities together. While seemingly a small step, the importance of this urban/suburban partnership to improve connectivity and quality of life in our area cannot be overstated. This new mixed-use project highlight’s Brighton and Rochester’s commitment to a rich trail system that facilitates commuting, fitness, recreation and family activities in the hopes of a healthier, more sustainable community that encourages all types of active mobility.
Guest blog by Calvin Eaton. Calvin is the founder of 540WMain Communiversity, a grassroots non-profit community based university. Calvin is a digital content creator, social entrepreneur, and educator whose area of expertise includes antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, gluten free plant based living, and higher education.
If you’ve followed my journey over the last couple of years you probably know that I sold my car in June 2018 and became a car-free professional. There are so many reasons why going car-free was the best decision for me and I want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past year and why I plan to continue my car-free lifestyle.
Like every typical American teen I couldn’t’ wait to get my drivers license so I could enter into grown up world of driving. Like most youth I had been indoctrinated to believe that getting my drivers license at the ripe old age of sixteen was the consummate mark of becoming an adult. American culture worships the car and the transition from child to pre-teen to adult is distinctly marked by getting a drivers license and soon after getting your first car. I admit that for me a drivers license (and by proxy a car) represented freedom, independence, and adulthood. At no point in my adolescence did I question this societal standard, ask why car ownership is idolized, or ask if youth in other cultures are cultivated to own a car at the stroke of sixteen like we are here in America.
After years of driving and adulting; last year I came to the strong conclusion that I honestly do not enjoy driving. In actuality, I hate driving. Driving for me is a sometimes necessity to get from point A to point B or take care of very specific tasks in life. Generally speaking, for me the process and responsibility of driving and more importantly being a responsible driver is stressful. After years of being car payment free and then bucking to societal pressure and getting a lease for a new Honda in 2016, last year I came to a dramatic conclusion that none of it was worth it. Not the maintenance, not the insurance payments, not the monthly car payments. I realized that I do not enjoy driving enough to own my own car and it was this realization that served as my primary reason to get sell my car and become car- free.
What I’ve Learned
Since then public transportation has become my primary means of mobility throughout the City. For me, public transportation works great. I live on a main bus line, work remotely and spend most of my time in the inner city going between the east and west parts of the City via Main Street. Most of my deviation from this daily norm is my travel to area colleges for co-working and meetings. For these times I use Lyft. In addition to these methods of mobility, I walk and sometimes bike. Walking and biking would be more part of my daily regimen if I did not have to deal with the ill and daily effects of living fibromyalgia and chronic pain which sometimes make walking and exercise difficult. Still since ditching my car I am happy to get in more daily steps and see more of the City. When the weather is clear walking is so beautiful and it has been a great way to place myself in spaces and places that I would never enter into if I commuted by car.
I understand that my work and and life affords me privileges that make going car free much easier for me than others. Still I am glad that I am in the position to bring more awareness to public transit, biking, and even walking to get around the City. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that for many young professionals like myself it is really about having a repertoire of easy to access mobility options at the ready when I need them. For me, having a car every single day is just not necessary. However it is necessary for me to be able to have a roster of easily accessible mobility options at my beck and call when I need them. There are some days that I will take the bus in the morning and then take a Lyft back home. Sometimes I borrow a family member’s car when I need to transport something then I drop it off to them mid-day and walk to the bus stop to get to my next destination. Just today, I took the bus downtown, took two meetings, then walked back home. I had my mother drop me off at the public market and then hailed a Lyft to 540WMain. This type of multi-mobility has become just as common and seamless for me as jumping in a car was just a few years ago.
I’ll admit that sometimes planning out my transit in advance can be a minor annoyance and every now and then after a late night class at 540, I wish I didn’t have to wait for the next bus; but for me these moments are few and far between. Because I have designed a highly dense life where everything that I need is within close proximity a car is not only impractical for to get around Rochester but burdensome. I just do not need a car every day and when I do need one, I have the access for that specific occasion and once that is fulfilled my needs are met.
I recognize that going car-free is not the lifestyle nor an option for for everyone but for those that are able to ditch the car or use their cars less, tapping into the biking community is not only good for the earth but good for our City. The more folks that use RTS the more services and infrastructure that will be created to accommodate a more comprehensive system. This will normalize public transit as a viable and accessible mobility option. The more folks who bike for commute the more biking will be normalized on our City streets and force officials, planners, and policy makers to make spaces and communities that support intentional bike infrastructure and design. As we travel deeper into 21st century living we need to be less reliant on cars and more reliant on urbanscapes that make mobility easy and accessible for everyone. Owning a car should be a choice not a necessity to tap into all that our City has to offer.
Story By Susan Levin. Susan is a cycling advocate, board member at Reconnect Rochester and chair of the Rochester Cycling Alliance workgroup.
The Rochester Women’s Bike Festival is back for its second year in Corn Hill! The Festival will be at Adams Street Recreation Center, 85 Adams St. on Saturday, June 15 from 9 AM to 3 PM. The event is free! Registration is available here. Watch for updates at facebook.com/rochesterwomenbike
Why are we creating a bicycling-event focused on women? Studies have shown that women will use a bicycle for everyday transportation if it’s convenient, comfortable, and safe. When women ride, they teach and encourage their children to get around the same way. For some, it’s economical—for the cost of a few tanks of gas, she can have reliable two-wheeled transportation all the time. Cycling also promotes physical and mental health. In the end, her whole community is safer if she feels it’s safe to get around by bicycle at all.
Over 130 women (and a few men) attended the event last year as participants, speakers, vendors, and volunteers. Three bicycles, donated by R Community Bikes, were given away as attendance prizes at the end of the day, along with gift baskets, salon certificates and bicycle accessories. There were ten breakout sessions throughout the day, and in between sessions, a complimentary breakfast and lunch were served. Four women were chosen to learn, hands-on, how to repair a flat tire and dozens of women practiced loading and unloading a bicycle on an RTS bus.
The Festival is offering space for women to ask questions, learn, and try out bikes in an understanding and non-intimidating atmosphere. Men are welcome to attend, as long as they are also there to encourage women to bike, but be prepared to discuss women-centered topics.
This year, RWBF organizers, including Corn Hill business owner Karen Rogers of Exercise Express, are planning an even bigger and better event.
Additions to this year’s festival include: on-street practice rides led by LCIs (League Cycling Instructors, a certification program from the League of American Bicyclists), healthier food options, more vendors in the Expo area, and more speakers. The RTS bus and Pace Bikes will both be back. Also returning is the bike zoo, where women will be able to test ride different kinds of bikes, such as cargo and e-bikes. REI and Tryon Bike, along with Bianchi Dama representatives, are scheduled to present short maintenance clinics. Breakout sessions will include: How and where to buy a bike; How to bike with children; How to grocery shop by bike; How to find a group ride and more.
Feel free to drop in and visit the vendor booths, the Bike Zoo and all the sessions. You can also sign up via that link to volunteer or request to host a vendor table. Volunteers will be needed for greeters, set up and break down, staffing info tables and general gophers. Vendors can be about bikes or any sort of organization who would be of interest to women who bike.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
The mind conjures the 7-year-old’s awkward stride as her kid legs push vigorously against the ground to gain speed as she holds on to the handlebars for dear life. Or maybe it’s the formidable mustache of Kevin James in the movie “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” as he patrols his local shopping center on a Segway. The fact is, since the scooter was invented, it’s been viewed almost exclusively as a children’s toy, or a middle-aged man’s vehicle toward social isolation. Or rather, those were the only definitions until just a few years ago, when venture-capital startup giants with names like Lime and Bird began dropping electric scooters down in US cities, almost overnight. Now with over 60 cities sporting these new motorized transportation marvels, the former adult stigma of riding a scooter has turned into a national movement.
And if you haven’t heard, we’re next.
A few weeks ago, the first news stories began reporting that Rochester will see these two-wheeled machines hit our streets as soon as this year. As no surprise, this announcement has been met with equal parts optimism and skepticism, with some excited to see a new transportation option in our city, and others worried about what hazards they could bring. In any event, e-scooters are a very divisive and at times heated topic, so let’s take a look at what we really know about them.
What Is E-Scooter Share?
Just like our Pace bike share network in Rochester, e-scooter sharing is a smartphone app-based system whereby you can easily locate an e-scooter near you, activate it with your phone, pilot the machine to your destination and end the ride on your phone when you’re done. Just like bike share, you’ll be charged based on the amount of time you use the e-scooter.
E-scooters are far more robust than the small kick scooters you see children riding. Equipped with formidable electric motors, these machines have a top speed of 15mph, allowing you to zip around the city at a respectable speed without breaking a sweat. Literally. No kicking, no pedaling, just hit the throttle and go.
While e-scooter share systems started on the streets of San Francisco in 2012, the phenomenon really exploded in 2017-2018. Large venture capital-based companies with names like Lime and Bird began distributing e-scooters in western cities with no warning, almost overnight, and typically, without the blessing of local government. In fact, electric scooters weren’t even legal in many of these municipalities.
In spite of this, e-scooters become instantly popular, garnering use from the curious urban fun-seeker to the daily commuter alike. By the time cities began to question the legal, safety and community impact of these micro-mobility machines, people had become so attached to them that they fought vigorously for their continued existence. The e-scooter startups had created such a strong public demand in such a short period of time, it almost forced local governments to grant licensing, change laws and accommodate for their continued use.
In 2018, e-scooter share trips topped 38.5 million across the country. For the first time, scooter share trips exceeded bike share trips (36.5 million) in the U.S., even though bike share has been established in US cities far longer. Like it or not, e-scooters are booming, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.
As of now, e-scooters are not legal in New York State. This will likely change sooner rather than later. Support from Governor Cuomo, and more recently a bill introduced by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Nily Rozic are putting the wheels in motion for municipalities to make their own laws regarding e-scooter operation. Cities and communities would be left to decide whether or not to allow e-scooters, as well as legal restrictions on their use.
What Are The Positives?
E-scooters can be tremendous “last mile” or short-to-medium distance transportation options for city residents and visitors. They can facilitate car-free travel without breaking a sweat, or be a fun activity on a warm summer night.
A national study by Qualtrics showed that 55% of Americans believe that e-scooters are a “lasting innovation.” This number was 72% for people that had already used an e-scooter share service. Seventy percent of commuters said they prefer e-scooter share to bike share. Two-thirds of all respondents said they believed that e-scooters had a “positive impact on the environment,” and were good for their city.
Surveys found that 62% of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. For respondents under 35 years of age, the support was 71%. Support from people of color was 74%, and support from residents with incomes below $30,000 was 66%. Seventy-one percent of Portland riders used scooters for transportation and 34% of residents and (as well as 48% of visitors) said they took an e-scooter instead of taking a car, using ride hailing services or taking a taxi.
In sum, the few studies that have been conducted on e-scooter use and community impact imply that a majority of people are in favor of their continued use. There is also evidence to show that residents and visitors use them in place of driving or using ride hailing services, which potentially decreases automobile congestion on city streets.
One of the biggest positives with regard to implementation in Rochester is the fact that Zagster, the trusted company that already operates our Pace bike share service, will be rolling out the new e-scooters. Unlike so many cities across the country in which tech startups have imposed scooter share programs without the blessing of local government, Zagster is working with the city to create a system that fits our needs and addresses major issues. Having an e-scooter operator that already has a positive working relationship with local government and the community is a tremendously positive first step toward a bright future for this service in Rochester.
It’s Not All Roses…
As you may have heard via countless news outlets, e-scooter programs have had their issues. Concerns over safety, “sidewalk litter” and pedestrian disruption are often very valid complaints with regard to these machines.
A safety study conducted by UCLA between September 1st 2017 and August 2018 tracked emergency room visits link to e-scooter share use in Los Angeles and Santa Monica hospitals. In all, e-scooters led to 249 emergency room visits, with no fatalities and two intensive care unit admissions. In the same time period, 195 ER visits for bicycle injuries and 181 visits for pedestrian injuries were reported, suggesting that e-scooters may be more dangerous than walking or biking.
A recent 87-day study conducted by the CDC in Austin, Texas showed similar concerns. The findings showed that, for every 100,000 rides, 20 injuries occurred, and 14% of these injuries led to hospitalization. Sixty percent of the reported injuries were suffered by riders who had used e-scooter share 9 times or less, suggesting a “learning curve” with regard to safe piloting of these machines.
Beyond safety, another concern with regard to these machines is that they tend to create “sidewalk clutter.” This occurs when riders reach their destination and finish their ride, lean the scooter against a tree or pole, only to have a slight wind or something else knock it over. The result is often the presence of e-scooters lying in sidewalks, obstructing pedestrians.
Lastly, while these machines are intended for use in the road, sidewalk riding is a frequent complaint. Since e-scooters can reach 15 miles per hour, the zipping by people on foot at these high speeds can be a nuisance, and potentially dangerous.
Let’s Take A Step Back
Scooters, like cars and bikes, are amazing tools for getting around. But they can potentially be a health risk, especially for new and inexperienced riders. While many people have ridden bikes, it’s safe to say that electric scooters are a very new riding experience for most Americans. There will no doubt be a learning curve when using these machines in our city, as speed, riding position, turning radius and the overall feel will be new to virtually every Rochestarian. With this in mind, it’s important for potential riders to “take it slow” and enjoy these machines carefully when learning how they respond and maneuver.
Let’s also put e-scooters into context. Forty-thousand Americans died and 2.5 million were seriously injured in car crashes last year alone, and most of those were due to operator error. Yet most Americans don’t hesitate to climb into their cars and SUV’s each morning and head off to work. The difference, of course, is that a misstep behind the wheel can cause tremendous harm to the driver and others around them while a bad decision on a bike or scooter will likely only result in the rider being injured. While it’s vital to consider safety for everyone, it’s also important to remember that these are 45 pound machines that can travel 15mph, not 3000 pound SUV’s capable of triple digit speeds. The potential for injury, damage and death that a poorly piloted e-scooter can cause is no match for carelessly driven automobile.
As for the issue of sidewalk litter, e-scooter companies are already searching for creative ways to encourage people to park their machine after using it. Skip, an e-scooter share company that has branded itself on being friendly and compliant, is working on a tethering system in which a rider would use a retractable bike-style lock to secure the scooter to a pole or bike rack after riding. Their scooters are already armed with a sensor that can detect when a scooter parked upright, and when it is simply left on its side as a potential tripping hazard.
Lime has rolled out an in-app feature called “Parked-Or-Not,” which encourages users to take a picture of their properly parked scooter after their ride. Lime and other companies are also testing and considering “points systems,” in which riders would be incentivized to park their machines responsibly with discounts and/or coupons for local establishments.
When cars first hit the streets of American cities, they were heralded as a nuisance and a serious safety hazard. But in a short time they became by far and away the most popular form of transportation in our country. Every mode of transportation has had its growing pains, but kinks are worked out with time, infrastructure gets built, and standards, both legal and societal, naturally evolve. For all intents and purposes, e-scooter share programs have only been on the radar for 2-3 years. Just like the automobile a century ago, there are certainly issues to be addressed, but with time, these troubles will likely diminish. When public demand for these machines are as high as they are, their parent companies will find solutions that make their use safer and more convenient for everyone.
What Is Reconnect Rochester Recommending?
As a leading advocate for smart, safe transportation and mobility in our city, Reconnect Rochester has made the following recommendations to City Council based on extensive research into e-scooter share data and media reports:
Use the first year as a pilot program to collect data on scooter usage, impact and public perception to allow for more informed decisions about the e-scooter share in Rochester moving forward. This will allow for flexibility and innovation that is tailored to the Rochester experience. The City of Portland’s Shared Electric Scooter Pilot Program provides an excellent example of what might be carried out in the City of Rochester. Portland discovered so many challenges during its 2018 pilot that it decided to conduct a second pilot year in 2019.
Consider capping the speed at 12mph to start. Beginning with a lower speed may give the inexperienced rider (and there will be a lot of them) time to adjust to this new mode of transportation and provide more reaction time for road hazards and traffic conditions. Given that most e-scooter trips are 1 to 1.5 miles, this lower speed won’t impact the trip time for the rider, but may help reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Make education a top priority. Offer free classes and online information on how to ride, where to ride and how to operate a scooter safely. In partnership with community organizations and the e-scooter vender, provide frequent training sessions at R-Centers and throughout the City to help encourage safe operation and road sharing.
Establish a set of best practices for e-scooter users and others who share the road to follow. This will help reduce tensions between the different modes of transportation as our community learns how e-scooters fit in. It will also help reduce the potential of crashes and injuries.
Establish guidelines with vendor to help reduce clutter on sidewalks and public rights of way. For example, consider tethering/locking features and designated parking infrastructure.
The key to a positive e-scooter share service in Rochester is a blend between an open-minded approach, a well-structured set of standards and expectations, and a willingness to explore new ideas to make the service better for everyone.
My Personal Experience
As an avid fan of alternative transportation, I already own an electric scooter, despite the fact that they are not legal in our state.
My experience with my e-scooter has been nothing but positive. At a maximum speed of approximately 17mph and a range of about 15 miles, my machine allows me to leave the car and bike behind in favor of a vehicle that gets me where I need to go without breaking a sweat. After hundreds of miles of e-scooter use, I can confidently consider myself an expert rider, and have never had an crash or fallen from the device. It is easy to operate, as long as I am alert and aware of my surroundings.
I will qualify that my positive opinion and safe navigation is likely due to the fact that I have biked nearly 10,000 miles over the last 5-7 years. This experience of traversing busy streets on two wheels, with balance, quick reaction time and precision likely eliminates much of the learning curve it might have taken a new e-scooter rider. With that said, I personally believe e-scooters are powerful, environmentally conscious and fun machines, and I welcome the day when e-scooters are legal across New York State.
It’s not a matter of “if” electric scooters will hit the street of our city, it’s “when.” And when they do, there will likely be excitement and acceptance, mixed with growing pains and learning curves. These devices are environmentally friendly alternatives to short trips by car, as well as fun and interesting ways to see our great city. As Rochester continues to evolve, and young people continue to ask for more transportation options, our city is positioning itself to offer a greater network of mobility options. E-scooters are part of that vision, and while there will certainly be hurdles, there is tremendous potential for a positive result and a meaningful additive to Rochester’s ever-evolving fabric.
The community response was tremendous, and we thank all those who took the time to submit nominations! We received a total of 159 nominations for 31 locations in Monroe County.
The Steering Committee had a tough task to choose from so many quality submissions and deserving locations! A set of established judging criteria helped guide us through the selection process. Here we are, hard at work examining each and every submission:
So What’s the Good Word?
In the end, we selected the following locations for this year’s project:
N. Clinton Ave. in the El Camino neighborhood – WINNER
S. Clinton, S. Goodman & Henrietta St. – FINALIST
Monroe Ave. & Sutherland St. (Village of Pittsford) – FINALIST
The North Clinton Ave. location presented the right mix of community support, evidence of safety concerns, and potential for a street re-design that would create real, transformative change for the community through our project. A Complete Streets Makeover will also be perfectly timed to dovetail with plans already underway for this corridor.
The Complete Streets Makeover will kick off with a community input session in June (facilitated by the Community Design Center) to hear from the residents of the El Camino neighborhood about their experiences and ideas. No one understands what it’s like to use our streets better than those who walk, bike, roll and ride along them everyday.
Based on feedback from this session, the complete streets design team at Stantec will draft conceptual design improvements of an improved streetscape. The design will be brought to life through a temporary on-street installation in September. We will rely on people power from the neighborhood community, and equipment from the Healthi Kids traffic calming library to lay down the temporary design on the street. Stay tuned for project updates as we go along!
What About the Finalists?
Our finalists won’t walk away empty-handed! The design team at Stantec will provide each of them with a conceptual drawing of street design improvements. The neighborhoods can use these illustrations as a launch pad for community discussion, and a tool to help advocate for changes that would make these streets safer for everyone
We are thrilled to welcome Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator and newest member of a growing staff team at Reconnect Rochester!
Jesse is hitting the ground running (or shall we say hitting the road biking) due to his already deep involvement in cycling advocacy and education. Learn more about his passion for the work in the message below.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
As I write this, the city of Rochester is passively preparing for yet another battle with a dreaded but familiar foe, lake effect snow. Winter boots and labored commutes will surely be the icebreaker (pun intended) conversation starters at the office water cooler today. But for the Urban Planner, as well as the casual observer, periods of light snow can be opportunities for great discovery.
In that time when the first whispers of a snow storm cover our streets and the plows are still dormant in their stalls, we navigate our vehicles on roadways by following the tracks left behind by the cars that recently came before us. To an Urban Planner, these tracks, especially with regard to their path through intersections, are of particular importance.
The ability to see the space that cars use (or rather don’t use) when traveling through an intersection by looking at these tracks through the snow gives us a golden opportunity to demonstrate how and where our streets can be narrowed. Think of it like an Urban Planner’s forensic blacklight, revealing the key unseen evidence of superfluous roadway.
These visual clues created by snow and tire tracks through our intersections are called Sneckdowns. While the name might conjure the image of a Dr. Seuss character, it is actually derived from the combination of “snow” and “neckdown,” which is a term for sidewalk additives and extensions that reduce traffic speeds and increase pedestrian access.
Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
In 2014, urbanist Jon Geeting authored a Slate article in which he took simple photos of sneckdowns on Philadelphia streets. His efforts inspired walkability advocates around the world to do the same, but best of all, it led to real change in his own backyard.
Before Picture. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Jon Geeting’s Sneckdown photo of this intersection paved the way for this concrete island which acts as a traffic calming measure and a pedestrian island for safer crossing. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Clarence Eckerson’s famous STREETFILMS video shows some incredible examples of how overbuilt our streets really are. With a measuring device and some cold weather grit, Eckerson puts the power of sneckdowns right in front of the viewer, showing how snowbanks that accumulate on city streets can give us a clearer understanding of how to construct and reconstruct our streets going forward.
Sneckdowns also give the average citizen the ability to see where change can be enacted. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to spot tracks in the snow, it takes a conscious observer who is genuinely concerned about safety and walkability in their environments.
Hey Rochester! Next time it snows, take to the streets and see if you can spot overbuilt space on our roads and intersections. It can be a fun, interesting and positive way to start the conversation about safer streets in your neighborhood, and may even lead to the change we want to see!
As we look back on 2018, we’re pretty darn proud of what we’ve accomplished together this year. The highlights below are just a snapshot of all the good work we’ve been able to do, thanks to the financial support of Reconnect members, the passionate volunteers that made our programs and initiatives run, and so many others that engaged in our work in countless ways. Thanks to each and every one of you.
If you haven’t yet made a membership donation, we hope you’ll consider doing so to help fuel our work in 2019! View the membership levels and gift options here. And don’t forget, we have a matching gift in effect from Jason Partyka for NEW members that join by Dec 31st!
Encouraging public engagement, lending support and giving input into local planning initiatives like Reimagine RTS system re-design, and the City of Rochester’s Comprehensive Access & Mobility Plan, Comprehensive Plan & Roc the Riverway.
Fighting for the transit dependent in our community through countless advocacy actions, like traveling to Albany on Transit Awareness Day, hosting a joint press conference with Our Streets Transit Coalition partners, and joining the New Yorkers for Better Public Transit campaign.
Congratulations to the Beechwood Neighborhood — Parsells Ave. & Greeley St. is the winner of our Complete Streets Makeover!
In May, we asked you to help identify theintersections and trouble-spots where you live, work and play that could be redesigned to make them safer for everyone.
We received over 90 nominations for roughly 39 City and 11 suburban locations. After a careful process to examine each and every submission, we selected the following locations:
Parsells Ave & Greeley St. – WINNER
Lake Ave. & Phelps St. / block encompassing Lakeview Tower – FINALIST
Monroe Ave., Canterbury Rd. & Dartmouth St. – FINALIST
We and ourteam of partners had a challenging task to choose from so many quality submissions and deserving locations! A set of established judging criteria helped guide us through the selection process. In the end, we decided that Parsells & Greeley presented the right mix of community support, unsatisfactory current design and feasibility for making a real change for the better through our project.
What Happens Now?
Our winner, Parsells & Greeley, gets a Complete Streets Makeover! The makeover kicked off last week with a community input session to hear from the residents of the Beechwood neighborhood. No one understands what it’s like to use our streets better than those who walk, bike, roll and ride along them everyday.
Based on feedback from this session, the complete streets design team at Stantec will draft conceptual design improvements of an improved streetscape that will be brought to life through an on-street experiment. That’s right. With the help of Healthi Kids and the City of Rochester, we are going to be testing the design improvements through some good old-fashioned tactical urbanism. Our goal is to demonstrate a successful project and move towards making the change permanent.
Our finalists won’t walk away empty-handed. The design team at Stantec will provide each of them with conceptual drawings of possible street design improvements. The neighborhoods can use these illustrations as a tool to help advocate for changes that would make these streets safer for everyone.
Monroe Ave., Canterbury Rd. & Dartmouth St.
Lake Ave. & Phelps St. / block encompassing Lakeview Tower
But, wait. There’s more…
Our filmmaker, Floating Home Films, is capturing all the action and will produce a short documentary film about the project to be featured at our Street Films event on Wednesday, November 14 at The Little Theatre. Save-the-date and stay tuned for more project updates!